Monday, December 28, 2009

In Praise of Violence

For the holiday, I had planned to make it a very Hong Kong Christmas or a very Kung Fu Christmas. You know, the kind you imagine you would be having if Quentin Tarantino was your pal. However, I did not manage my Netflix queue well enough and Infernal Affairs didn't arrive until Saturday (Martin Scorsese remade the story in The Departed). And I couldn't get ChungKing Express to work because my VCR is currently disabled, and I only have that on tape). What I really wanted for my entertainment was a whole lot of violence, and well, to be honest, certain sections of Asia do violence really well (though Wong Kar Wai's film is not violent at all but I have a thing for Tony Leung Chiu Wai).

Anyway, my desire for violence this holiday was not due to the stress of the season nor because of family (didn't visit them). So, here starts a rambling essay about enjoying violence.

I restarted reading a manga called Berserk by Kentaro Miura and put out by Dark Horse Comics. Miura started the series in 1990, and it's been running ever since. I had watched the anime series which was obviously incomplete but, as my friend Alex has said, had an oddly compelling storyline, much different from your usual Japanese fantasy plot.

Imagine if Clive Barker wrote Conan the Barbarian and Hieronymous Bosch and H. R. Giger penciled it -- plus the gender politics of a Frank Frazetta painting. The story focuses on Guts (or Gutsu or Gatts) who is the Berserker in question, wielding a ridiculously big sword that's as wide as an elephant's thigh. The story is also ridiculously violent and dark. It has all the markings of a very guilty pleasure. Oh yeah, in typical manga fashion, there is also a cute elfin sidekick who makes comments about how he's there to "lighten" the mood.

What attracts me to these violent media? I do not think violence of any sort, short of self-defense, to be conscionable. I step over a bug on the sidewalk (and I have a strict rule regarding insects in the house that I'll do my best to put them outside unless they have touched my face or been on my bed -- both of which carries a death sentence -- and, believe me, having grown up in Georgia where our bugs could eat everyone else's bugs, this is a very generous rule).

I like violent video games -- decapitating your opponents in pixels is just so relaxing! Of course, I don't like all violence in media. Maybe it's a gendered thing, but guns bore me. When I used to play Doom, I loved to use the chain saw. Torture porn movies also bore me. Violence on par of Frank Miller's more recent fare (300, Sin City) seems silly . Hmm, maybe that's it. I only like violence that doesn't take itself too seriously (which is a sick contradiction, I know).

Which brings me back to Berserk. Most of what I have mentioned that I don't like is in full flower in this manga. I'll have to think some more on this. Stay tuned for In Praise of Violence II (or, the deathbed retraction, either one).

3 comments:

Cranky Yankee said...

Violence that doesn't take itself too seriously? I concur with you on most points.

I like cartoon violence, and the chop-socki type Asian violence you describe. Yet, I didn't have a problem with 300 or Sin City either.

Personally, gore doesn't bother me...I love horror movies. But I do not like the "torture porn" that has creeped into some modern horror movies. It's a real turn-off. What's up with that anyway?

A few months ago, Joey was given a DVD of two hours of Tokyo Shock trailers. We had more fun watching that then some Something Weird video collections we've seen! Now we have to track down some of those titles! Gotta love the Eastern mindset when it comes to movies.

K. A. Laity said...

Well, I think there's a broad range of approaches to violence in Asian cinema and comics, so I'd have a hard time with any fast and hard characterisations, but I think you're on to something with the aim of the violence being different. When you put something like Kung Fu Hustle next to something like Woo's films, the differences are stark. Likewise with the torture porn which appeals much more to a general audience than to a horror audience, which suggests something very different is going on -- that the popularity of franchises like Saw have more to do with cultural agonies over torture than they do with violence per se. I sometimes think the torture porn movies seem to be a way to say -- like many a conservative pundit -- that it isn't so bad and sometimes you "don't have a choice" so better someone else than you (yes, a very selfish reaction, but we have a fairly selfish culture at present).

I will wince at not even all that realistic violence when it's aimed at characters for whom I have sympathy built up; yet I can be entirely sanguine when it comes to something like Evil Dead 2 because I buy in to the silliness of the narrative and the splash of crimson has less of an impact.

Arsene Grand said...

well i much prefer those horror with backstory in it..at least you would have insights in the mind of those killers/or the characters in it..sometimes poor costumes really affect the movie for example a character wearing something like a peep toe pumps,how can you run with that?just take it off..:0